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Why did my hands swell up during my third trimester?
Q: I'm in my third trimester of pregnancy and lately my hands have become very sore and sometimes, swollen. Do you think this is Carpal Tunnel or something else that pregnancy is causing to happen? What can I do to help lessen the pain?
Penny Paramus, NJ
A: Dear Penny,
Swelling in the third trimester is almost as common as pregnancy itself.

Swollen feet and ankles after a day on your feet are almost universal, and many women notice fluid retention throughout their body. Swollen hands and generalized hand aching can be part of a normal pregnancy. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome refers to a specific situation where the median nerve to your hand is pinched where it travels through your wrist. The median nerve and a group of tendons that reach your hand pass between a cluster of bones called the carpals. The median nerve supplies sensation to your thumb, index and middle finger and half of your ring finger.

These areas may develop numbness, tingling and pain as the median nerve is compressed. Usually your pinky feels fine because the nerve to this finger travels separately from the median nerve. You can test if you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by bending your wrist; this increases the pressure on your median nerve and will cause your symptoms to increase. Repetitive use of your wrist or fingers or sleeping with your wrist in a bent position will provoke your symptoms. Fluid retention and inflammation during pregnancy can also exacerbate this bothersome condition.

If you do suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you may get some relief by keeping your wrist in a neutral or flat position, often by using a splint designed for this purpose. Wear this splint at night to prevent yourself from curling down your wrist while you sleep. If your pain is persistent or severe, you should to consult with a physician. There are exercises that can help you to stretch your wrist, steroid injections that can sometimes provide symptom relief, and a surgical procedure reserved for the most serious cases. Luckily this condition is usually temporary, and will resolve on its own within a few weeks after your delivery.
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist